Choosing the Right Herbal Supplement

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Filed Under: Nutritional Support, How to Use Supplements
Last Reviewed 02/21/2014

Choosing the Right Herbal Supplement

Herbal supplements have a few rules of their own when it comes to safely selecting and using them.

How to Choose the Best Herbal Supplements

  • Look for standardization of active ingredients. A supplement is standardized if it has been scientifically analyzed and guaranteed to contain a certain percentage of what has been identified as the active constituent of the herb. Standardization is a way of ensuring potency and consistency from one batch to the next—something that’s especially important because the phytonutrient content of plants varies widely, depending on soil and other environmental conditions, storage and processing. However, because the active ingredient in some herbal supplements has not yet been identified, it may not always be possible to go with standardized extracts.

  • Delivery system doesn’t matter. You’ll find a wide variety of herbal supplements in your health-food store in many different forms: tablets, capsules, liquid tinctures, teas and more. No one delivery system is superior to the others; it’s simply a matter of personal preference.

  • Purchase brands that come in dark glass or plastic bottles. Herbal extracts contain sensitive constituents, so purchase herbal supplement brands that come in dark glass or plastic bottles. To ensure high quality, herbs should be thoroughly tested and analyzed during harvesting and manufacturing. At a minimum, a reputable manufacturer should be able to tell you if a product has been tested for potency and impurities such as heavy metals, additives and microbes. Independent laboratory assays of herbal supplements over the past few years have come up with some startling findings. At the time of testing, for example, a quarter of the ginkgo products, a third of the St. John’s wort supplements, and almost half of the ginseng products evaluated failed to meet label claims. Finally, be aware that Chinese herbs are among the most contaminated and adulterated of all herbs, so select these herbal supplements with care.

  • Only use herbs for specific health problems. Unlike vitamins and minerals, which you should be taking every day, you should only be using herbal supplements for specific health conditions. For example, if you have chronic back pain, you may take daily doses of curcumin, or if you have migraines, you may take feverfew. Be aware that some herbs should not be taken by individuals with certain diseases or drug regimens, so before you start taking one, read labels and check for drug-supplement interactions.

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